Tyra Banks is a supermodel, television show creator and host, proud displayer of her ass, Harvard business school attendee, and true visionary. The woman who has given us the smize, Life-Size, jumpsuits of all colors, and videos of herself in a fat suit has given the world yet another treasure. In September of 2011, the fiercest of the fierce, Miss Tyra Banks, became an author.
Her book, Modelland, is a novel for the ages; an epic, sweeping tale of romance, familial dysfunction, body-dysmorphic disorder, and gruesome violence and death. It is also the tale of a wondrous fantasyland called, you guessed it, “Modelland,” where the beautiful faces hide dark, dark secrets, like the giving away of babies and eating food out of dumpsters. It is the campiest, greatest thing ever.
The heroine of our tale is one Tookie de la Créme. Tookie has a forehead (nay a fivehead! a sixhead!) the size of the universe, as Banks clearly drew from personal experience in every aspect of this thing (especially the murder-y parts). Her mouth is “four centimeters too wide,” she is crazy skinny and gawky, and to add to her hideousness, her eyes are two different colors, because apparently Kate Bosworth does not exist in this universe and thus different-colored eyes are unappealing.
She is a “Forgeta-Girl” that people don’t notice, who frequently lies down on the busy floors of her school’s hallway to see if anyone shall even bother to step on her. She writes letters to strangers that she never sends, can instantly speak any language, and is best friends with a girl who lives in a tree and loves cutting herself with sharp rocks. She is the very picture of mental health.
Tookie’s parents are total assholes that hate her and adore her gorgeous and completely idiotic sister “Myrracle.” Tookie’s dad is a former gymnast whose eye was put out with a sword in an acrobatics accident, and her mother, who demands her children address her as “Creamy,” has a mysteeeeeriously wrinkled face and a need to constantly redecorate her house and torture Tookie.
We meet this zany cast of characters just before the “The Day of Discovery” (“T-DOD”) in which magical “Scouts” from Modelland come to find new girls to train to become “Intoxibellas,” the greatest models and most highly respected peoples of the land. Thousands of girls come to be picked and whisked away to Modelland. Those who find a SMIZE (all caps deliberate), a golden sheath for the eyes, have a much higher chance of being picked. Nice cross-promotion there, Tyra. Tookie is shockingly selected, along with other unlikely candidates; a short girl, a plus-size girl, and a girl with albinism (who become known as lilliputian, whale, and “transparent girl” to the other, more traditionally genetically blessed models of Modelland). See what Tyra did there? Because on her show she wants to “expand the definition of beauty” and so she does it her book too?
To get through Modelland, the girls must survive Thigh High Boot Camp, the rage of the all-powerful “Bella Donna,” mean girls that are mean because they are actually homeless, and classes where they learn to pose against all odds. Tyra consistently shows off a masterful use of wordplay throughout the novel. “Mannecants” are the servants of Modelland, the male modeling school is known as “Bestosterone,” there is a light that floats above the models as they sleep, designed to capture them in their best light, called the “lumiére,” the albino girl, Piper, is from “Sancolor” and the short girl, Shiraz Shiraz, is from a dark land called “Cann delle Abra.”
The novel is filled with too many colorful plot points and details to name, but some include a superhumanly beautiful, possibly insane Intoxibella who believes in honoring all types of beauty (Banks may have a slight narcissism problem) who can fly people around in a giant pouch. She is named Ci~L because as a baby, her mother was forced to give her up and named her that because it apparently somehow translates to “I See Love.” It’s all very easy to follow. Other fun moments include the violent deaths of those who contract the “Pilgrim Plague,” an unending desire to become a model that takes them on a dangerous journey to Modelland, during which several perish through being swallowed by a pile of skulls, murder, and being captured by mythical creatures seduced by the power of dance.
Modelland also includes a catwalk filled with evil cats that were actually once catty models. The medical center has doctors with roller skates for feet. It kind of rules. As Tyra says, let it lift you up like a good push-up bra. Fly in the pouch of fierceness.